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The zen DM – part 4: potential

Written by Expy - Published on May 16, 2008

Welcome to the fourth installment of “The zen DM” – a series of articles that deals with achieving game mastering nirvana by reducing workload and increasing (chances of) success.

From the omniscient Wikipedia: Zen […] is a school of Buddhism notable for its emphasis on mindful acceptance of the present moment, spontaneous action, and letting go of self-conscious and judgmental thinking.

3 types of adventures

A DM’s potential is limited by the adventure he runs. No matter if the adventure is custom made, or purchased, an adventure module can seriously enhance or hamper one’s DMing skills.

Before committing to an adventure path, consider if:

  • The adventures has no value
  • The adventure has added value
  • The adventure has intrinsic value

Adventures with no value

All adventures can be fascinating but some of them have no value to the DM or the players. For example, if your players like investigation adventures, a dungeon crawl has no appeal to them. Even if you spend hours preparing (or reading) for a game session, the value of the adventure is limited or nonexistent.

Expy the dragon haiku-izes:
Zen DM knows well –
Most adventures similar.
Includes red dragon.

Adventures with added value

This type of adventure separates itself from the pack. It has one unique or novel element – like a great combat scene with never-before-seen terrain or enemies. Or elements of the story that are customized and character-specific – adventures built around, or adjusted for, your players will generate motivation and involvement from them.

Adventures with intrinsic value

Before working on any adventure or game session, you need to think about what will make it memorable. Is it something belonging to it by its very nature? Is it something at the core of the campaign, adventure, or sesssion? The potential of the adventures you run is directly linked to their core concepts.

Sure, being with your longtime friends means you’ll have fun. (added value)
Sure, that clever trap you designed will make the game interesting. (added value)
Sure, that NPC has great quirks and is fun to interact with. (added value)

However, it isn’t enough to only have added value.

Running an adventure with intrinsic value means that your players will be anticipating each game knowing that the story has a powerful driving force, that the adventure will be unique and fascinating. And if you add value to your adventure on top of its core value, then your players will come to know and expect great scenes, a memorable RPG experience, every session.

How do I know for sure if my adventure has intrinsic value?

There is no scientific way to know this. But I personally wait for 2 things to happen before I invest my valuable time into preparing a campaign or adventure:

  1. I think of a concept that truly excites me – the ideas come easily, swirling and rushing through my mind.
  2. I sleep on that new concept and if I’m still pumped the next day, or the next week, then I know I’ve got something special.

What do you think?

What can a DM do to make sure an adventure really rocks?

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Written by Expy

Meet Expy The Red Dragon

Expy is the mascot for DungeonMastering.com and the real mastermind behind Expy Games. He likes to hoard treasure, terrorize neighbors, burn down villages, and tell white dragon jokes..

No matter how fearful the legends claim dragons are, they always end up being defeated in 5 rounds by adventuring parties they encounter. That’s what dragons are – experience points for the heroes in your Dungeons & Dragon party. And this mascot is no different, hence the name Expy.

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3 Responses to “The zen DM – part 4: potential”
  1. Michelle says:

    i cant come up with anything myself….but i had a DM once who made his own classes/monstrous humanoid race (his example was a “Night Elemental” that could be grafted onto existing races)

    i just think that utilizing the custom monstrous/celestial/outsider humanoid templates in the MM makes for an interesting campaign, especially for seasoned D&D players cause it throws something they really arent expecting at them.

    i also have an idea about having my players go from medieval fantasy then jump a extraplanar portal into a modern campaign and back again.

  2. Nickalin says:

    At the end of each game night I hand out my bonus points to the players. these point values are usually 50 for great roleplaying etc.. 100 point for acomplishing something special, or a great idea, 200 points for direct action in saving a party member & 500 to anyone who is directly involved in saving the party or something equally spetacular.
    Then I allot each charector 100 points to award to there co-charectors, with this added info direct from the players I can taylor the next session to better reflect what they feel is important when we have played under a differant DM, the main thing my players miss is the ablity to give there imput ( awards) at the end of the night try it, the awards are small enough they do not unbalance any game play. But they do allow your players some control , it also make them think about there reactions a little more.
    let me know how it works out for you

  3. dylan says:

    i was thinking of making arace for my charachters (for i am the dm) call a polyamorphyous humoniod,
    where it had the basic stats + it could morf into anything it ever saw.
    and dm is so easy! i love it!!!
    just draw a map with boxes and pathways, and then put some kind of monster in the boxes then put stats depending on your partys levels

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